The agenda for the final OUSA Executive meeting of the year was largely uncontentious, as the vast majority of the agenda items were passed without issue: notably a disaffiliation a now defunct group, passing an employment agreement, reporting on Welfare and Education Committee Meetings, and giving the last remaining money in the OUSA charity budget to a child cancer charity; all of which were passed without issue.
OUSA’s Secretary Donna Jones was then congratulated for her recent graduation with a Bachelor of Applied Management (with distinction); she was also thanked for all of her support throughout the year. OUSA staff members were then also thanked by the executive members for their support throughout the year.
The final discussion of the meeting, and thus the year, involved an incident that resulted in a fine incurred by OUSA which turned the congratulatory tone of the meeting into the painfully argumentative horror show that is sadly now expected of this year’s executive. The $200 fine was incurred when a sealed beer bottle exploded causing a “small leakage” when it was taken into a taxi that was transporting Administrative Vice President Jarred Griffiths, Colleges Officer Bayden Harris, and Education Officer Alexia Cochrane from the OUSA’s Christmas Party to Bayden Harris’ house and then back into the city centre for an OUSA dinner. It was paid through Jarred Griffiths’ authorisation using the OUSA credit card, however the OUSA constitution requires that any expenditure be authorised by two senior staff or executive members, namely the President, Admin VP, Finance Officer, CEO, or Secretary. When the $200 invoice arrived on President Laura Harris’ desk for her to sign off she was “hesitant” to do so, believing there was an “understanding that it would be paid back [by the members because] OUSA should not be paying for personal fines.” Cochrane responded by emphatically claiming, “there is no way I’m paying for that fine” due to the fact it was in no way “preventable because it happened purely by chance.”
Griffiths’ stated that this issue needed to have been sorted out earlier and the fact it wasn’t “shows how poor the communication has been this year.” Welfare Officer Bryn Jenkins stated the “onus is on you to sort it out, not us” which Griffiths disagreed with due to the fact there are no policies or guidelines in place to instruct the members of what to do when situations like this arise, and so to require the fine to be paid would be a retrospective decision and thus deeply unfair. Jenkins then responded by drawing a bizarre analogy between this situation and “taking money out of a till.” Postgraduate Students Officer Mariana Te Pou said that she “knew nothing about this incident until today”, before reinforcing the point that the executive’s “communication is seriously lacking.” Griffiths went on to say that he believed this was simply “personal politics...as Bayden [Harris] and Alexia [Cochrane] “feel personally attacked.” Laura Harris immediately responded by saying “that is incredibly unfair of you”, before Bayden Harris snapped, asking rhetorically: “so it’s okay for you not to come and talk to us but we should come to talk to you?”
By posting a “gentle and kind post on Facebook saying that I am more than happy to pay it and then have you pay me back”, Harris said she was “handing out an olive branch.” The other option proposed by Harris was to have the three members repay the $200 through an installment plan, which was immediately shut down. Laura Harris noted that “Bryn and I have had to decline hardship grants for fines so why is this any different?” Griffiths then pointed out that Harris had bought “hundreds of dollars of gift vouchers for restaurants in Dunedin using OUSA money”, without realising the strict guidelines about giving gifts to university staff members. Harris then pointed out that the gift vouchers were “given to OUSA Student Support” after this realisation was made, and that “the executive had a vote [on whether to buy the gift vouchers]”; Critic could not find a record of such a vote in any of the OUSA Executive minutes.
As the meeting quickly deteriorated into a shouting match, Bryn Jenkins asked if “any of you are going to repay the money?” to which each of the three responded in turn with a defiant “no”. Griffiths then left the room to attend another meeting, after which Jenkins spoke of how them not paying is “abhorrent” and it is “an abuse of power to use association money for personal gain.” Laura Harris then told the executive that because the three members were refusing to pay the fine, she would “reimburse that money to OUSA” personally.
The final meeting of the year ended with Laura Harris extending a presidential “thank you all for a wonderful year.”
On an important side note, Laura Harris’ handover to President-elect Hugh Baird is going swimmingly...in a pool, without any water in it. Baird confirmed that he’s “yet to have any handover at this point but hopefully heading into January I’ll be able to get some expert guidance.”